In early 2005, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) apparently added language to a tsunami relief bill shifting $8.2 million from a former client of his brothers lobbying firm to a new client of the same firm.
That earmark is now tangled up in a federal indictment alleging that some of the money was skimmed by contractors and a Defense Department employee for their personal use.
Murthas spokesman said that no one in his office has any recollection of the transaction, and the House Appropriations Committee was unable to provide any information about how the language appeared in the tsunami relief bill.
But sources familiar with the appropriations process agreed it was impossible that a provision removing earmarks from one company in Murthas district and transferring the money to another company in his district could have been added to the bill without Murthas involvement, since he was at the time the ranking member on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the language.
The provision appears in the House committee report of a March 2005 bill providing billions of dollars worth of military spending and aid to the Asian countries that were devastated by the December 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people.
The bill included a technical corrections section, which transferred $8.2 million to other procurement, Air Force for a project called the mobile common data link gateway. This project later called the ground mobile gateway was an effort to build a unified battlefield communications platform for the Air Force by a Pennsylvania company called Coherent Systems.
Six months earlier, Murthas brother Kit Murtha and his firm KSA Consulting had registered to lobby for Coherent systems.
The tsunami bill specified that the money for the Air Force gateway project be transferred from two Navy research and development projects, one called the all-in-one wireless access points, the other called wireless network capable application processors. Both of these projects, totaling $8.2 million, were being carried out by a company with offices in Murthas district called AEPTEC or 3e Technologies Inc.
Maryland-based AEPTEC had been a client of both KSA Consulting and the PMA Group another lobbying firm with close ties to Murtha until it was raided by the FBI last year and dissolved at the end of March. In April 2004, Murtha issued a press release hailing the opening of a new building in Indiana, Pa., that AEPTEC planned to occupy.
Murtha had secured several earmarks for the company in previous years, and in 2001, he announced that AEPTEC would be an initial supporter of a nonprofit Murtha was creating called the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities.
But something went awry in Murthas relationship with AEPTEC.